Ansu Fati has talent that not many others can boast but still has a lot to prove at Barcelona, according to new team-mate Sergio Aguero.

The Spain international marked his first start since last November with a goal in Barca's 3-1 comeback win against Valencia on Sunday.

He missed the best part of a year with a long-term knee injury that had limited him to three substitute appearances before this month's international break.

Fati is regarded as Barca's big hope now that Lionel Messi is no longer around and Aguero, who made his debut against Valencia, hopes to help the youngster showcase his talent.

"Ansu is still a very young player and he has a lot to prove," Aguero told Barca TV. "I'm very happy that we have him here. 

"We have to help him continue showing how talented he is, because not many other players have that."

Fati's goal came from one of three shots against Valencia, two of which were on target – the most of any Barcelona player.

The 18-year-old has scored from 11 of his 38 shots in LaLiga since the start of February 2020 and has a conversion rate of 35.48 when excluding penalties.

That is the best return of any player to have scored more than five goals in the competition over that time, followed by Kevin Gameiro and Jorge Molina (both 33.33).

 

While Fati stole the show against Valencia, the much-needed victory at Camp Nou was also an occasion to remember for fellow striker Aguero.

The Argentina international made his first appearance for the club as a late substitute, 10 and a half years on from his last game in the Spanish top flight for Atletico Madrid.

Having been hampered by a calf injury since arriving on a free transfer from Manchester City in May, Aguero is glad to have finally got some competitive minutes under his belt.

"I'm very happy to have made my debut," he said. "I've been looking forward to this moment for a long time. The most important thing was to win the match.

"It was incredible that the supporters chanted my name, though now I have to get used to that song and show the same affection they show me."

Memphis Depay was also on target for Ronald Koeman's side from the penalty spot after Fati had cancelled out Jose Gaya's early opener, before Phillipe Coutinho added a late third.

The Catalan giants moved up to seventh in LaLiga with the victory, five points behind surprise pacesetters Real Sociedad with a game in hand to play.

Is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer running out of time at Old Trafford?

Manchester United are already five points off the pace in the Premier League and pressure is mounting.

United, though, are believed to be firmly in favour of sticking with their manager.

 

TOP STORY – SOLSKJAER WANTED AT THE WHEEL

Manchester United are still backing under-fire manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to Fabrizio Romano.

United slumped to a 4-2 Premier League defeat to Leicester City at the weekend, which has left the Red Devils with just two wins from their past seven games across all competitions.

As pressure mounts on Solskjaer, United still reportedly have faith in the Norwegian amid links with the likes of Antonio Conte, Zinedine Zidane and Erik ten Hag.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Serie A champions Inter are ready to battle Arsenal for Madrid forward Luka Jovic. The Serbia international has struggled for form and fitness in the Spanish capital.

PSG want to swap Mauro Icardi for Barcelona's Sergio Aguero, claims El Nacional. The reports says Lionel Messi wants to reunite with countryman Aguero, who left Manchester City for Barca, only for Messi to join PSG.

- Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni, Borussia Dortmund's Axel Witsel, Denis Zakaria of Borussia Monchengladbach and Ajax's Ryan Gravenberch are among Juventus' transfer targets as they look to add options in midfield, per Tuttosport. Tchouameni has also been linked with Chelsea, Manchester United, Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester City, while Roma have been eyeing Zakaria.

Sergio Aguero cannot claim to have played a meaningful role in Barcelona's much-needed 3-1 defeat of Valencia, but his Camp Nou debut was a significant step nonetheless. 

A free transfer from Premier League champions Manchester City, Aguero spent more than two months recovering from a calf injury before being included in Ronald Koeman's squad on Sunday. 

Aguero finally took the field in a Barca shirt officially for the first time in the 87th minute, coming on to replace Sergino Dest shortly after Philippe Coutinho's goal sealed the win for the LaLiga giants.

Argentina international Aguero became the third oldest player to debut for Barcelona in LaLiga in the 21st century (33years and 137days) after Lilian Thuram in 2006 (34years and 251days) and Demetrio Albertini in 2005 (33years 159days). 

Back in LaLiga for the first time since leaving Atletico Madrid for the Premier League 10 years ago, Aguero soaked in the adoring welcome as the home crowd chanted his name. 

"Well, that was incredible," City's all-time leading scorer Aguero told Barca TV. "People calling my name, singing my name. It'd be nice to get used to that. 

"I want to thank them on the pitch for that affection. I can't thank them individually but I hope they enjoy my play on the pitch." 

Barcelona have scored at least one goal in each of their previous 18 home games against Valencia in LaLiga (48 goals) – their second longest run scoring at home against them (after 31 between 1939 and1970).

They are unbeaten in their last six games at Camp Nou against Valencia (W4 D2), since a 2-1 loss in April 2016.

"I am so happy to make my debut, I have been looking to this moment," the 33-year-old added. "It was a good debut because we won and that is the most important thing.

"It was great to hear the fans chanting for me and now it is my turn to repay their love."

Any contributions from Aguero would be welcome as he joins a side that had won just three of their first seven league games before Sunday in addition to heavy Champions League defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica. 

Aguero could be in line to star at home against Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday with Barca looking to secure their first points in Group E, and the Clasico against rivals Real Madrid looms Saturday. 

Vancouver Whitecaps moved within a point of a play-off position in the MLS Western Conference table thanks to a 2-1 defeat of Sporting Kansas City on Sunday.  

Ryan Gauld scored in the 23rd minute and Russell Teibert added a second for the Whitecaps in the 35th with a left-footed strike that eluded goalkeeper Tim Melia. 

Johnny Russell netted for the sixth successive game, scoring in the 43rd minute for the visitors, but that was the extent of their comeback. 

Second-placed Sporting KC (52 points) would have clinched a play-off spot via a win or a draw but will have to wait as they remain five points adrift of leaders Seattle Sounders. 

Vancouver are on 40 points, one behind seventh-placed Minnesota and two back of Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy. 

New York Red Bulls made a third-minute goal by Cristian Casseres Jr. stand up on the way to a 1-0 win over New York City that left the rivals tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. 

The two New York teams are on 40 points, one behind Montreal for the final play-off berth, and they are headed in opposite directions. 

Red Bulls are unbeaten in their last seven (5W 2D) as they seek a 12th successive play-off appearance, while New York City have won just three of their last 16 games (5D 6L).

New York City have failed to score in their last four matches and are mired in a 429-minute scoring drought stretching back to a 1-1 draw against Red Bulls on September 22. 

Napoli star Victor Osimhen described his match-winning header as the "most important goal of my career" after the record-equalling Serie A leaders preserved their perfect start to the season.

Osimhen rose highest to head home the winner with nine minutes remaining in Napoli's 1-0 victory at home to Torino on Sunday.

Napoli made it eight wins from eight games – the only team with a 100 per cent record in the top-five European leagues – to equal their best start to the Serie A season (after 2017-18), despite Lorenzo Insigne's missed penalty in the first half.

Osimhen revelled in his goal afterwards, with only Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (seven) and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland (five) scoring more goals than the Nigerian forward (five) in September and October in the major five European leagues this year.

"It was the most important goal of my career," Osimhen said post-match. "I'm so pleased. The atmosphere at the stadium was incredible. The fans pushed us forward and we managed to get the three points.

"We never gave up, we attacked until the end and deserved the win. I saw the ball fly up and I thought I could get there before the defenders.

"I connected well and scored such an important goal for me and the team."

Napoli – who last won the Scudetto in 1989-90 – are two points clear of second-placed Milan.

"When you have strong players in attack, there are more solutions, so you always hope something can happen," Spalletti told DAZN.

"… I've seen an improvement in terms of mentality and compactness. Seeing [Matteo] Politano and Insigne track back is something that unites, gives strength and creates team spirit.

"We have a team of friends. We also want to propose a good football and tonight we were at a very good level. We built, fought and were willing to give what this game required."

"We obtained a big win for our fans who deserve it. We feel the passion for their love for these colours and the team. It was important to feel their joy tonight."

Insigne is the player who has missed the largest number of penalties (three) this season in the five major European leagues.

The Napoli captain missed his sixth penalty out of his 26 attempts in Serie A – considering only the current season, the Italian forward has scored two penalties out of his five attempts.

Since Napoli returned to Serie A in the 2007-08 season, they are the team that have missed the highest number of penalties in the five major European leagues (35).

"Lorenzo has a strong bond, especially with his team-mates who are helping him. He was sorry for not giving his contribution," Spalletti said. "For me, Insigne will take the next one, then it will be Lorenzo's turn and then the captain's."

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri admitted he did some "damage" at the start of the season, but the Serie A giants are heading in the right direction after beating Roma.

Moise Kean earned the credit for Juve's winning goal in Sunday's 1-0 win at home to Roma as Rodrigo Bentancur's first-half header deflected off his forehead and in, while Wojciech Szczesny saved Jordan Veretout's penalty.

Juve have now won four consecutive Serie A matches and six in a row across all competitions, though they started the 2021-22 campaign without a win in three league fixtures – losing back-to-back matches after drawing their opener.

"We have players more suited to counter-attacks, those are their characteristics, so when we try to play the ball, we either fall asleep or get irritable," Allegri – back in Turin for a second spell having replaced Andrea Pirlo – told DAZN.

"It's an important victory, another step forward in the table and a further progress for the season. We were missing [Paulo] Dybala, [Matthijs] De Ligt, [Adrien] Rabiot, [Alvaro] Morata only came on at the end, but when everyone plays with that spirit, you don’t concede as many goals.

"We are starting to slow the game down at the right time, but we need to step up the pace too when it's required. I won't lie, I probably did damage too at the start with some of my choices, I had to get to know some players and their characteristics, but we're getting there."

"We knew beforehand it would be tough. Roma could've deserved a draw, but these are games that depend on incidents and tonight fortunately they went our way," said Allegri. "I do say they put in a good performance and are one of the best teams in the league."

After falling behind in the 16th minute, Roma's Tammy Abraham thought he had equalised, turning a loose ball into the back of the net after Szczesny brought Henrikh Mkhitaryan down in the box.

But the whistle had already gone to award Roma a spot-kick, which Veretout saw the Juventus goalkeeper parry aside on the stroke of half-time.

"I like 1-0, as it's a good result, especially as we kept another clean sheet," Allegri added. "Roma are a technically good team, they have a lot of quality and caused us problems early on, then we scored a good goal and improved as time wore on."

Szczesny is the goalkeeper who has saved the most penalties in Serie A in 2021 – three out of the seven faced.

On the penalty, Allegri said: "Szczesny made all his mistakes for the season in one fell swoop and is now bringing back what he can to the team. We need to improve in the final third, the timing and movement, but we'll get there."

With this win against Roma, Juventus have won 10 Serie A games at Allianz Stadium against a single opponent for their first time.

Ronald Koeman says Ansu Fati's "quality is undeniable" after his stellar performance in Barcelona's 3-1 LaLiga win over Valencia at Camp Nou on Sunday. 

Fati, whose return from a long-term knee injury had been limited to substitute appearances before the international break, marked his first start since November 7 with a superb equaliser after Jose Gaya had given Los Che an early lead. 

Teenager Fati then won the penalty that saw Memphis Depay put Barca ahead before the break, while Philippe Coutinho added a late third to ease the pressure on Koeman after back-to-back defeats in the Champions League and LaLiga before the international break. 

Fati, who recently inherited Lionel Messi's iconic number 10 shirt, was withdrawn in the 59th minute, with Koeman insisting it is important his reintegration into the first team is not rushed. 

"He has to improve physically little by little, but his quality is undeniable," the Dutchman told Movistar. "Today he has already played an hour and he has more and more competition rhythm. Hopefully he can play many more years at this club.

"We have a plan with him. Today he played from the beginning for the first time. Little by little he will be better and it will be more important; he is a different player from the rest."

Sergio Aguero, who joined on a free transfer in the off-season after leaving Premier League champions Manchester City, was introduced from the substitutes' bench late on for his debut, and Koeman said they will be taking a similarly cautious approach with the Argentina international. 

"It is important for the team to recover the injured attackers," he added. "Ansu and Aguero are different players, with special qualities. Aguero also has experience. I hope he follows a path similar to Ansu's. It is not a question of quality, but of being in good physical condition."

 

Coutinho's late third was his first goal since November 29 last year, and the Brazil international opened up on a difficult period in this career.

"It was a cry of rage [his celebration] because I needed to score to gain confidence," he explained. "No one else knows how much I have suffered. I have the same desire or even more with everything I've been through. It is a scar that makes me stronger. 

"I have more desire to succeed and be the best Coutinho. We know that the situation is not the way we want it, but we are the only ones capable of lifting it. The team is involved and today we have shown it against Valencia. We have given 100 per cent, but if we have to give 150 per cent, we will give it."

Barca host Dynamo Kiev in Champions League Group E on Wednesday before a mouth-watering Clasico against Real Madrid at Camp Nou on Sunday. 

Jose Mourinho says he saw a "great" Roma in Sunday's 1-0 loss to Juventus and is convinced his side are moving in the right direction despite the defeat.

Moise Kean scored the only goal of the game at Juventus Stadium as Rodrigo Bentancur's header deflected in off the striker in the first half, with Jordan Veretout seeing a penalty kept out by Bianconeri goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Roma out-shot Juventus 15-6 and edged possession with 52.1 per cent, but were unable to breach the hosts' stubborn rear-guard in Turin.

Giallorossi boss Mourinho believes his beaten side did enough to win the match and is encouraged by the progress Roma are making under his stewardship.

"I can only say I saw a great Roma today. That's what I told my players in the locker room," Mourinho told DAZN.

"Obviously, we are talking about a defeat and zero points, but all I can say is that was a great Roma in every respect. Congratulations for the organisation, the hard work, those who played despite some physical difficulties, missing players through international duty.

"I saw courage, confidence, belief. Obviously, the defeat will always be a defeat, but if I look at the project, that means looking at the growth of the team over time.

"I might see it differently to you, but I saw the team that deserved to win ended up losing. That is football.

"All the words we heard from Juventus in the tunnel and the locker room, I hope they say it in public too. They know how much they struggled against us.

"I won here many years ago without playing so well, today we lost when playing very well and showing we are going in the right direction.

"I told the lads that when going into these games where you are not the favourite, you cannot go home with regrets. We played well, we neutralised their counter-attack and had absolute control of players like [Federico] Chiesa and [Juan] Cuadrado.

"We moved the ball internally, but when up against a side that defends that well with those two professors [Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci] it's not easy. I still feel we did more than enough to win or at least draw. I congratulate my players."

Roma were frustrated with the referee for awarding the penalty that Veretout failed to convert, blowing his whistle seconds before Tammy Abraham turned the ball into the net after Henrikh Mkhitaryan was fouled by Szczesny.

However, Mourinho declined to comment on the matter other than to confirm that Abraham had wanted to take the spot-kick, but had been turned down by first-choice taker Veretout.

"The penalty incident, I don;t want to comment on," Mourinho continued. "I don't have all the information at hand, I haven't seen the replays. I want to isolate myself from that incident and concentrate on everything my team did.

"Abraham is confident, he was fired up, but we have a hierarchy for penalties. Tammy is third behind Veretout and Pellegrini. If Jordan said he was ready to hand it over, that would not have been a problem for me."

Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay helped ease the pressure on Ronald Koeman as Barcelona sealed a 3-1 win over Valencia at Camp Nou on Sunday.

The Catalan giants had won just three of their opening seven LaLiga games before the visit of Los Che and more disappointment looked a real possibility when Jose Gaya powered Jose Bordalas’ side ahead early on.

Fati, whose return from a long-term knee injury had been limited to substitute appearances before the international break, marked his first start since November 7 with a superb equaliser, while Depay put them in front from the penalty spot before the interval. 

Substitute Philippe Coutinho gave the scoreline a healthier look five minutes from full-time as Barca, who handed former Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero a late debut from the bench, sealed an important win.

It took just five minutes for Valencia to take the lead, Gaya lashing a superb half-volley into Marc-Andre ter Stegen's bottom-right corner from 30 yards.

Barca responded well, though, and drew level eight minutes later when Fati whipped past Jasper Cillessen from just outside the penalty area after a one-two with Depay.

The Dutchman then put the hosts ahead four minutes before the interval, thumping home from the penalty spot after Gaya had brought down Fati inside the area.

Cillessen got down well at his near post to keep out Fati's effort shortly after the restart, while at the other end Carlos Soler saw an effort crash back off Ter Stegen's right-hand post.

Ter Stegen had to be alert to keep out Goncalo Guedes' powerful strike shortly before the hour mark as Valencia threatened to restore parity. 

Maxi Gomez almost drew Valencia level with a long-range free-kick that flashed past Ter Stegen's upright inside the final 10 minutes, yet it was Coutinho who had the final say, the Brazil international sliding in his first goal of the season from close range.

Wojciech Szczesny was the hero for Juventus as he saved Jordan Veretout's penalty, awarded under controversial circumstances, en route to a 1-0 win over Roma.

Moise Kean earned the credit for the Bianconeri's winning goal in the first half as Rodrigo Bentancur's header deflected off his forehead and in.

Tammy Abraham thought he had equalised, turning a loose ball into the back of the net after Szczesny brought Henrikh Mkhitaryan down in the box, but the whistle had already gone to award Roma a spot-kick, which Jordan Veretout saw the Juventus goalkeeper parry aside.

The result sees Massimiliano Allegri's side move up to seventh in the Serie A table, just one point behind Roma, who remain fourth.

Roma started the brighter of the two sides, Gianluca Mancini testing Szczesny with an early headed effort, but went behind in the 16th minute as the hosts scored with their first attempt of the game, Bentancur heading the ball against Kean and in following Mattia De Sciglio's deep cross from the left.

The visitors were left frustrated as the referee blew his whistle to award them a penalty - confirmed after a VAR review - for Szczesny's foul on Mkhitaryan just moments before Abraham found the net, with Veretout's subsequent spot-kick saved by the Poland international.

Shortly after the restart, Federico Bernardeschi's spectacular bicycle kick was spilled into the path of Kean by Rui Patricio, but the striker blazed the loose ball over the bar from inside the six-yard box.

A second VAR penalty check was conducted when Lorenzo Pellegrini went down in the box as he and Giorgio Chiellini swiped at a loose ball, but this time Jose Mourinho's men were denied a spot-kick and were unable to find an equaliser, slumping to their third defeat of the season.

A section of a stand at Eredivisie side NEC Nijmegen's stadium, the Goffertstadion, collapsed as Vitesse fans celebrated their side's 1-0 win, but there were no injuries.

Nikolai Baden Frederiksen's 16th-minute goal separated the two rivals at the final whistle and the Vitesse players went over to celebrate with their travelling supporters, who were jumping in unison when the stand gave way beneath them.

However, no fans appeared to be hurt in the incident and, after a brief pause, the festivities resumed as the away fans enjoyed their side's positive result.

Nijmegen Mayor Hubert Bruls demanded an inquiry into why the stand collapsed, but said he was relieved that there were no casualties.

“I am very shocked by what happened," Bruls told De Telegraaf. "Fortunately, as far as is known, no one was injured. I want an investigation into what happened here as soon as possible.”

A Vitesse fan present at the game explained that, despite the shock of the event, the mood among the supporters remained positive and reassured that no injuries were sustained.

“Everyone is now back on the bus, fortunately without injuries," Vitesse fan Danny said to Omroep Gelderland. "But it was a shock. The atmosphere is no less. Everyone is safe on the way back home. We won and that's the most important thing."

Just over two years ago, there was a similar incident as the roof of AZ's home ground - the AFAS Stadion - collapsed during a heavy storm, but nobody was present at the stadium at the time.

Julian Nagelsmann was pleased with Bayern Munich's display in their 5-1 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen but felt his side should have added even more goals to their tally.

The reigning champions responded to their first defeat of Nagelsmann's tenure two weeks ago against Eintracht Frankfurt with a superb attacking display at BayArena on Sunday.

Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry each scored a first-half double and Thomas Muller was also on target in between those braces, all in the space of 37 minutes.

It marked the first time Bayern have scored five goals away from home in the first half of a Bundesliga match as they reclaimed top spot from Borussia Dortmund.

Bayern also hit the post through Leroy Sane, whose eight shots was the most of any player in a game this campaign in the German top flight.

And with Patrik Schick getting a consolation for Leverkusen in the second half, Nagelsmann does not believe the scoreline was a true reflection come full-time.

"We had an incredible number of closing situations and an outstanding structure," he told DAZN. 

"It sounds strange at 5-0, but we also had a chance of scoring sixth, seventh and eighth goals in the first half. We could have scored more.

"The second half was more calm and that's completely normal from both teams' point of view. 

"A lot of things we didn't do well against Frankfurt worked out today. In the end we are very happy to win the game."

 

Only twice before in Bundesliga history has an away side scored five goals in a quicker time from kick-off – Dortmund against Schalke (23 minutes) and Karlsruhe versus Frankfurt (30 minutes), both in 1964.

There have been 10 occasions when teams have scored five or more goals in the first half of a Bundesliga game this century, with Bayern responsible for six of those 45-minute thrashings, including when they put five past Dortmund before the break in March 2018 on the way to a 6-0 win.

Leverkusen are no strangers to one-sided first halves, meanwhile, as they are the only team to have scored six goals in the opening 45 minutes of a match in the division since the turn of the millennium, doing so in their 6-1 win over Frankfurt in 2018-19.

"It was a terrible beginning," Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky added. "We have to ask ourselves whether we gave it our all. There was something missing from everyone today."

Lewandowski's two goals came from three shots as the Poland international brought an end to his mini drought.

His run of scoring in 15 successive league games was ended prior to the international break when failing to net against Greuther Furth and then Frankfurt, before also going scoreless in Poland's double-header of October fixtures.

The 33-year-old has now scored two or more goals in 73 different Bundesliga games – a tally bettered only by late Bayern great Gerd Muller (87) – and was happy to joke about his short-lived scoreless run after getting back on the scoresheet.

"Four games without a goal... which four games? Do you mean training? I scored in the Champions League game before the Frankfurt match," Lewandowski pointed out.

"Personally, I'm happy when people ask when I'll score my next goal. That shows what expectations they have of me.

"Sometimes there are phases when the ball doesn't fall to you, you have to be patient. Today it worked out twice.

"We scored five goals in 45 minutes. At the break it was clear we would take all three points with us to Munich. We can be satisfied with the performance."

The 29 goals scored by Bayern in their opening eight Bundesliga matches equals their previous highest tally at this stage in a campaign from the 1976-77 season.

The day Jamaica created history and qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the axis of the women’s game in CONCACAF shifted in a seismic way.

Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz’s qualification to France 2019 signified in part an unprecedented growth and development leap for the Caribbean.

Importantly, too, the fairytale success story was of monumental historical proportion, as the island became the first from the region to be catapulted into the stratosphere of the global game and its greatest stage, the World Cup.

On October 17, 2018, at the Concacaf Women’s Championship inside Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, Jamaica achieved the unthinkable.

In the third-place match, the Girlz defeated Panama in an epic match, which ended 2-2 after regulation and extra time. And the two, with the scent of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France in scope, had to be separated by the dreaded penalties. As it turned out, Jamaica triumphed 4-2, and the rest, as they say, is history.

On that magical journey, was assistant coach Andrew Price and he recalled the momentous occasion as if it happened yesterday.

“The emotions were like a roller-coaster on the bench in that final qualifying game [against Panama]. We took the lead on two occasions and lost it twice. We deliberately saved our changes late in the game to ensure that we would have been prepared for extra time.

“But the masterstroke was when we decided to replace goalkeeper Sydney Schneider with Nicole McClure. We had practised penalties the day before and Nicole was amazing in goal, so when we saw the clock winding down, it was important that we put her on the pitch before time expired,” said Price.

As part of a technical team led by Head Coach Hue Menzies, the assistant coach revelled in the tactical astuteness of the coaches, for he thought the off-the-field decisions had a positive impact on the outcome of the match.

“In practising the penalty kicks, we made the players make the long walk from half-line to the penalty box to take each kick, so for that match day the players would be prepared for the scenario, and everything worked to perfection. As you know, Nicole saved two penalties and we scored all our penalties,” Price re-collected.       

The experienced tactician said there was self-belief in the camp that the World Cup dream was reachable as the team went through the layers of qualification.

“The confidence and self-belief came after the first round of the Caribbean World Cup Qualifying held in Haiti. It was a difficult tournament in terms of the conditions and environment that the young ladies had to face.

“The real test was the final game of the round, between ourselves and the host Haiti, as we battled for the one qualifying spot. We went into the game on similar points, but we had a superior goal difference of two goals. All we needed was to draw to advance. In front of a partisan and sometimes hostile crowd of 15,000 Haitian supporters, we trailed 2-0 in the first half.

“But we showed our real strength by pulling a goal back before halftime. During the halftime talk, we told the Girlz to relax and play their normal game. They went out, and in a stirring performance, silenced the crowd with the equalizing goal. For the remainder of the match, we fought tooth and nail to ensure we advanced to the next round,” Price reminisced.

As the qualifying journey took its twists and turns, the Girlz saw themselves more than just competitors but real contenders for a spot at France 2019.

“With each passing round of the qualification, the confidence of the Girlz grew. They believed they were on a mission to accomplish something great. They grew into a closely-knit family -- all for one and one for all. They were willing to be patient and trust the process, and they did so one game at a time. They took obstacles as inspiration to work that much harder,” said Price.

He said when the final whistle went in the decisive match against Panama, there was a feeling of euphoria that swept through the team and all the support staff.

“We were just overcome with joy. The immediate reaction was to scream, ‘We did it’. We were so elated. We jumped and hugged each other. Then our next reaction was to get on the pitch and celebrate with the Girlz. The moment was surreal. It was as if time stopped for the moment,” Price said.

Jamaica’s success, said Price, was a signature moment for the entire Caribbean, a rallying cry that anything is possible if one dares to dream.

“Most definitely it was a triumph for the entire Caribbean. No different from when Haiti qualified for their first Men's World Cup in 1974. It inspired nations like Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago that it could be done. Similarly, our historic qualification will inspire other Caribbean countries. The gap is closing between the world powers in football and the others, as a global village has made the catching up achievable,” he reasoned.

“Previously in Concacaf, the automatic teams would be the USA, Canada and Mexico. But now you have Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama, Haiti, Trinidad and others knocking at the door. This comes as a result of FIFA and Concacaf assisting significantly in the development of the Women's game,” Price added.

In France, the Girlz lost all their Group C matches, but even in defeat against significantly stronger opponents, the learning experience was priceless.

“From the draw, we were quite aware we were in the ‘Group of Death’, with top-ranked teams such as Brazil, Australia and Italy. It was always going to be difficult against these teams. But we made up our minds that we were going to be competitive and give a good account of ourselves. The experience we gained was all a part of the learning curve. It is the experience you can only get by playing against the best,” Price noted.

Bayern Munich helped themselves to five first-half goals as they thumped Bayer Leverkusen 5-1 on Sunday to return to the top of the Bundesliga.

The reigning champions suffered their first defeat of Julian Nagelsmann's tenure last time out, but they responded in the best way imaginable at BayArena.

Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry helped themselves to a couple of goals each in a one-way first half, with Thomas Muller registering in between those doubles.

Leverkusen were level on points with Bayern before kick-off and pulled one back through Patrik Schick, but Nagelsmann's side were able to cruise through the rest of the match to overtake Borussia Dortmund at the summit.

The hosts had won their previous five matches in all competitions, keeping a clean sheet in the last three of those, but it took Lewandowski just three minutes to backheel Dayot Upamecano's centre past Lukas Hradecky.

Bayern went on to lose after opening the scoring against Frankfurt, but there was no sign of that happening against Leverkusen. Shortly after Leroy Sane sent a shot against the right post, Lewandowski lashed home a second of the game on the half-hour.

That was the first of four goals in seven minutes, with Muller in the right place to deflect in a Niklas Sule shot before setting up Gnabry to score. Gnabry then joined Lewandowski in bagging a brace with a shot into the bottom-left corner.

The visitors had kept a clean sheet in only one of their last nine league games, however, and that poor defensive record was extended when Schick latched onto Florian Wirtz's throughball and arrowed a shot past Manuel Neuer in the 55th minute.

Sane squandered a couple of good opportunities to get in on the act, including a header over the bar from close range, while a disallowed Lucas Alario goal for offside was the closest Leverkusen went to further reducing the deficit.

Bayern Munich became the third-fastest side in Bundesliga history to score five goals in an away match as they raced into a 5-0 lead against Bayer Leverkusen inside 37 minutes.

The reigning champions tasted their first defeat of Julian Nagelsmann's tenure at home to Eintracht Frankfurt prior to the international break, but they responded in style at BayArena.

After going back-to-back league games without scoring for the first time in two years, Robert Lewandowski flicked Bayern into the lead inside three minutes in Sunday's match.

Lewandowski scored a second on the half-hour mark and Thomas Muller was next on the scoresheet four minutes later.

Serge Gnabry added a quickfire brace of his own, the Germany international dinking in Bayern's fourth of the contest before slotting in number five two minutes later.

Only twice before in Bundesliga history has an away side scored five goals in a quicker time from kick-off – Borussia Dortmund against Schalke (23 minutes) and Karlsruhe versus Frankfurt (30 minutes), both in 1964.

There have been 10 occasions when teams have scored five or more goals in the first half of a Bundesliga game this century, with Bayern responsible for six of those 45-minute thrashings, including when they put five past Dortmund before the break in March 2018 on the way to a 6-0 win.

Leverkusen are no strangers to one-sided first halves, meanwhile, as they are the only team to have scored six goals in the opening 45 minutes of a match in the division since the turn of the millennium, doing so in their 6-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in 2018-19.

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